DURHAM, N.C. – Ryan McCurdy drove in the tying run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth while Jeremy Gould followed with a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the 10th to lift Duke to a 7-6 win over Brown Tuesday afternoon at Jack Coombs Field.
After trailing 6-5 since the fifth inning, Duke (20-5, 4-5 ACC) was down to its last out in the bottom of the ninth before McCurdy came through with a clutch two-out single to left field. The line drive base knock sent in Gabriel Saade from second base after the sophomore Blue Devil battled back from a 1-2 count to draw a walk before stealing second base to put himself in scoring position.
Following McCurdy’s game-tying single, Duke strung together three singles in the bottom of the 10th, including Gould’s go-ahead knock down the third base line to end the game. Gould’s single sent in junior Tim Sherlock, who singled and moved into scoring position after a two-out base hit from junior catcher Matt Williams.
Batting in the cleanup spot for the first time in his two-year career, Saade accounted for three of Duke’s runs and hammered his second home run in as many games. Saade also picked up his eighth stolen base in as many attempts, which proved to be one of the key plays in Duke’s late comeback.
Freshman relief pitcher Dennis O'Grady also factored heavily into the win, as the Blue Devil right-hander kept Duke in the game with four scoreless innings of relief. He ran his scoreless streak to 17.2 straight innings after scattering five hits and a walk against the Bears.
Sophomore two-way player Alex Hassan (1-0) picked up the win after taking over on the mound in the 10th. He also went 3-for-6 with two runs and an RBI from the leadoff spot for his team-leading 13th multi-hit game of the season. Hassan also extended a scoreless streak of his own, holding opponents without a run over his last six outings for a span of eight straight innings.
Duke starter Christopher Manno contributed his usual strikeout-heavy pitching performance, chalking up nine Ks in five innings of work, eight of which came in the first three frames. Manno gave up six runs, though five were earned, but improved his team-leading strikeout average to 12.41 Ks per nine innings.
Sherlock had a pair of hits and two runs, while Williams and Gould also contributed multi-hit outings. Sherlock has had two hits in three of his last four games while providing seven runs during that span.
Rob Hallberg (0-2) took the loss for the Bears (5-7) after giving up the go-ahead run in the 10th innings. Duke had trouble getting leadoff man Steve Daniels out, as the Bears center fielder went 3-for-6 with a run and an RBI. Shortstop Matt Nuzzo also contributed three hits, as did catcher Matt Colantonio. Nuzzo added a pair of RBI while left fielder Ryan Murphy crossed the plate twice on two hits.
Manno was nearly untouchable in the first inning, as the sophomore southpaw struck out three batters in the frame. Brown was able to manage a pair of weak singles and a stolen base though, which led to a 1-0 lead for the Bears. The first hit of the inning was an infield single down the right field line that leadoff man Steve Daniels legged out to beat Manno to the bag by less than a step. Manno responded by striking out the next two batters, but Daniels put himself in scoring position with two outs after getting a good jump on Manno’s first delivery to cleanup hitter Conor Reardon to steal second. Manno almost got out of the inning unharmed, but Reardon fought off an inside pitch and dropped a bloop single into left field to send Daniels across the plate.
Duke quickly erased the deficit and tied the score at 1-1 in the bottom half of the inning, thanks to a fielding error by the Bears that allowed Hassan to score from second. Hassan opened the inning with a base hit up the middle and advanced to second on a groundout back to the mound by Gould. With two outs on the board, Saade then drove a ground ball to the left side that Bears shortstop Matt Nuzzo misplayed and allowed to get by him into left field, giving Hassan plenty of time to round third and cross the plate standing up.
The tied score did not last long, however, as Brown took advantage of a fielding error and a pair of walks to load the bases and score four runs in the second. The inning started when Saade misplayed a ground ball at second base from Colantonio that led to a bases-loaded, no-out situations after Manno issued consecutive walks to Joe Mellano and Ryan Zrenda. Ryan Murphy then battled Manno into a 2-2 count before driving an RBI single up the middle, just before Manno picked up the first out of the inning with another strikeout. With the bases still loaded, Chris Tanabe squared around to bunt and punched the ball behind the pitcher’s mound just over Manno’s head to turn the wheel once again. The bunt single left the bases loaded, setting up Nuzzo for a two-run double to the warning track in deep center field for the fourth run of the inning. The run would be the last, however, as Manno finally shut down the rally after inducing a popup and striking out Robert Papenhause for the second time in as many at bats.
The four-run lead was short-lived for the Bears, as Duke strung together three straight singles with two outs in the bottom of the second to score two runs and cut the deficit to 5-3. Sherlock, Hassan and Williams all singled, with Hassan and Williams’ base hits accounting for the two runs.
Manno recovered from the four-run second inning to strike out the side in the third. Through the first three innings, Manno struck out eight batters to bring his total to a team-leading 33 on the season, a number that would expand to 34 before he departed after the fifth inning.
After Manno made quick work of the Bears in the third, Saade rewarded his pitcher with a leadoff home run that put Duke within one run at 5-4. The home run was the team-leading 14th extra base hit of the season for Saade.
Brown regained a two-run lead in the fourth after stringing together three hits, including an RBI single by Daniels. Daniels’ base knock was a screaming line drive up the middle that sent in Murphy after Brown’s number nine hitter tripled to open the inning. Manno surrendered another hit in the inning to put runners at first and second, but settled down just in time to get two straight outs to limit the damage to one run.
Duke took back the run in the fourth on a fielder’s choice ground ball by Saade in the bottom half of the inning, as the Blue Devil second baseman beat out what would have been an inning-ending double play to let Gould score from third. A leadoff double by Hassan made the run possible, as the Blue Devil center fielder soon after advanced to third on single by Gould. With runners at the corners, Saade ripped a grounder to Papenhause at third base, where he fielded and immediately fired to second base. The throw to first was not quick enough for Saade, however, as he beat it by a step.
Manno picked up another strikeout in a scoreless fifth after falling behind 3-0 in the count to Mellano. The Blue Devil starter responded with two straight fastballs down the pipe before buzzing a 3-2 fastball by Mellano for his ninth strikeout of the game.
Duke then sent O’Grady to the mound at the start of the sixth in relief of Manno, which immediately signaled the end of Brown’s offensive output. Over the next four innings, the Bears had just one runner advance past first base, despite knocking five hits.
O’Grady got some help from his catcher in the seventh, as Williams gunned down Colantonio trying to steal second. The Blue Devil backstop’s throw made it to second so quick that Colantonio was forced to stop in his tracks and retrace his steps to first base where he was tagged out by Grant Monroe.
Duke had an opportunity to tie the score in the bottom half of the seventh, but Vita pitched himself out of the jam despite allowing pinch runner Tom Luciano to reach third with two outs. Senior designated hitter Jonathan Nicolla got the inning started with a single up the middle before swapping spots on first with Luciano. McCurdy then pushed him to second base with a sacrifice bunt before a groundout to shortstop by Monroe moved Luciano to third. Lemmerman then stepped in with two outs on the board and got ahold of an 0-1 offering, but hit it directly at right fielder Nick Punal to end the inning.
Vita retired the side in the eighth, but made his first mistake in the ninth by issuing a walk to Saade after jumping ahead 1-2 in the count. The Blue Devil infielder immediately followed by stealing second to put himself in scoring position. Vita almost locked up the win after forcing pinch-hitter Kyle Kreick to fly out to left, but McCurdy came through with his clutch single to send in Saade all the way around from second.
Hassan took over on the mound for Duke at the start of the 10th and retired three of the next four hitters on groundouts to take the 6-6 score into the bottom of the inning. It was then just a matter of at bats before Duke walked away with the win. Sherlock started the rally with his second single of the game before moved up two bases on another single by Williams. Gould then ripped the second pitch down the third base line just inside the bag to send in Sherlock with ease.
Duke will have its first-ever meeting with Division I newcomer N.C. Central on Wednesday, March 26, at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, home of the Triple-A Durham Bulls. The contest, which was originally slated for 3 p.m., has been pushed back to 7 p.m. There will be no admission charge for the game.-d-u-k-e-